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FGB winners go beyond the bottom line


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Franchising Gives Back logo

At its third annual Franchising Gives Back celebration on September 11, the International Franchise Association will continue its recognition of franchise companies’ charitable programs and the impact they have on their communities. One winner in each of five categories (Spirit of Franchising, Newcomer, Enduring Impact, Support Our Veterans, Innovation and Impact) will receive the Gold distinction from the stage prior to the IFA’s Franchise Action Network initiative, where members visit their congressional leaders.

Thirteen franchises will bring home the silver in each category. Franchise Times, the program’s media partner, has profiled the winners selected by the IFA Franchise Education and Research Foundation here.


Spirit of Franchising Award

At McDonald’s, opportunity starts with education

Speaking little to no English, Yenis Blanco came to the United States from El Salvador six years ago and got her first job at franchisee Ron Gantt’s McDonald’s restaurant in Washington, D.C. Through the company’s Archways to Opportunity program she received her high school diploma during a ceremony at the restaurant earlier this year.

“With the help of McDonald’s and her independent franchisee, Yenis was able to learn English as a second language and earn her high school diploma,” said Lisa Schumacher, director of education strategies at McDonald’s. “Five years later, she manages a large restaurant team and is pursuing higher education to become a law enforcement officer.”

Launched in 2015, Archways to Opportunity offers tuition assistance to help employees earn their high school diploma, graduate from college with upfront college tuition assistance, access free education advising services and learn English as a second language. In its first year McDonald’s saw nearly 5,000 restaurant employees enroll to receive education offerings, and in year two that participation has more than doubled as the company has awarded more than $14 million in tuition assistance. There have been more than 100 graduates from the Career Online High School Program and 5,200-plus graduates from the English Under the Arches program, both part of Archways to Opportunity.

Yenis Blanco

McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program helped employees Yenis Blanco

McDonald’s and its franchisees believe the best investment is one in the people who bring the brand to life for customers every day in the restaurants, said Schumacher, as the company aims to be America’s best first job. “Restaurant employees have told us that education opportunities are extremely important to them, so these specific programs were developed based on their feedback,” she said. “We take seriously our role in helping employees learn, grow and succeed, and we’d like to see every restaurant employee who wants to advance their education take advantage of these benefits.”

Another success story is that of Alfreda Brown, a longtime McDonald’s employee who’d dropped out of high school to raise her children and in 2014, after being promoted to general manager, enrolled in the Career Online High School program through Archways. She’s since earned her high school diploma and is now enrolled in college. Jenny Escobar, meanwhile, moved to the U.S. from Colombia after losing her mother when she was 15. She started working at a Florida McDonald’s owned by franchisees Alex and Isa Rodriguez, who encouraged her to earn her high school diploma, which she did with the help of Archways.

“Our commitment to the communities we serve includes providing opportunities for those who work in our restaurants to succeed at McDonald’s and beyond,” said Schumacher. “For hundreds of thousands, a job at McDonald’s is their very first and our world-class training and education programs begin building the skills first-time workers will need to succeed in the workforce and progress in their careers at McDonald’s.”

Jenny Escobar

Jenny Escobar earn their high school diplomas.

Silver Winners

Dream Dinners—Living the Dream Foundation

Long before they became franchisees of meal assembly concept Dream Dinners, Phil and Sheila Harris began helping local families in their San Diego County community, efforts that eventually evolved into Friends and Family Community Connection with a focus on feeding those in need. Since the couple signed on with Dream Dinners 10 years ago, they’ve worked with the franchise’s Living the Dream Foundation to expand their service efforts through franchisees across the country. The foundation now functions as the heart and funding source of Fight Against Hunger meal packaging events that Dream Dinners hosts in partnership with FFCC. Since 2007, FFCC has distributed more than 15 million meals, benefiting local communities and those in countries such as Haiti, Uganda and Kenya. In 2016 alone, Dream Dinners and FFCC packed more than 440,000 meals and raised more than $100,000.

Sonny’s BBQ—Random Acts of BBQ

Wanting to laud the achievements of people who give their time and talent to others but get little recognition in return, Sonny’s BBQ started its Random Acts of BBQ program in 2014 and has since honored more than 500 people in eight states with a surprise feast to celebrate all they do for their communities. Sonny’s BBQ customers submit nominations and individual restaurant teams select recipients to recognize, allowing each Sonny’s franchisee to get involved in their community. Recipients have ranged from Wandy, an Orlando elementary student who continually set an example of kindness to fellow students and helped stop bullying in his classroom, to Horace from Jacksonville, who has dedicated hundreds of hours in his spare time to delivering bread to food banks and building wheelchair ramps in his community.

Home Instead Senior Care—Hilarity for Charity

While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there is care. That’s the foundation of Home Instead Senior Care’s partnership with Hilarity for Charity, the fund started by actor couple Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen to raise awareness and support Alzheimer’s research. Working together, Home Instead awards in-home care grants to people providing care to their family members and loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. The grant program has awarded more than $4.7 million, totaling 191,000-plus hours of home care.

— Laura Michaels


The Newcomer Award

Judgment-free Planet Fitness battles bullies

“We’re all about creating a welcoming, judgment-free environment in our gyms,” said McCall Gosselin, VP of public relations and communications for Planet Fitness. And with its pro-kindness, anti-bullying initiative The Judgment Free Generation, the New Hampshire-based franchise is “extending that judgment-free zone into our communities.”

“Bullying is a top or concern for parents of school-age kids,” Gosselin continued, “and so this issue really aligns with our brand.”

Launched in 2016, The Judgment Free Generation has Planet Fitness teaming up with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and anti-bullying awareness and support organization STOMP Out Bullying with the goals of raising money for both groups and developing resources to help create a more positive after-school climate.

With efforts such as a new member promotion in which proceeds from $10 enrollment fees were donated to its partners, Planet Fitness raised $1.13 million in 2016, more than double its original goal of $500,000 for its inaugural year. The franchise also worked with STOMP to develop a digital bullying prevention toolkit made available to the more than 4,200 Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, to support the clubs’ emotional wellness efforts.

Planet Fitness

Mario Lopez, standing third from right, EXTRA host and Boys & Girls Club alumnus, helps Planet Fitness bring its judgment-free philosophy into a deserving community by unveiling a mini “Judgment-free Zone” gym within the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena, California.

A third partnership, with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, was created with the goal of developing evidence-based training curriculum for Boys & Girls Clubs staff and youth, something Gosselin said helps the organization “day in and day out.”

“Bullying, it’s an issue that people are aware of, but a lot of programs react to incidents versus dealing with it and preventing it before it happens,” she said. “Working with the Yale Center, it’s training Boys & Girls Club staff and extending that training to their teen leaders … it’s all about changing and shaping a culture of kindness that’s judgment free.”

Franchisees, Gosselin noted, have embraced The Judgment Free Generation initiative through volunteering at their local Boys & Girls Clubs and helping clubs create their own mini “Judgment-free Zone” fitness centers.

“Our franchisees are extremely passionate about giving back and about our mission as a brand,” said Gosselin. “That’s something that really drove this platform and is extending it into our communities.”

Planet Fitness plans to increase its fundraising efforts and expand programming each year, and with the creation of a scholarship program in conjunction with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Scholarship America will support higher education by awarding 10 students with $5,000 scholarships “for embodying the values for which Planet Fitness stands.”

“It’s to reward kids for being kind and giving back to their community, not just for academics and athletics,” said Gosselin.

By combating the negative with the positive, Gosselin said Planet Fitness aims to make a continual impact with its anti-bullying efforts and grow programming each year.

Silver Winners

Chicken Salad Chick—Music and Miracles

It was the brainchild of Chicken Salad Chick’s co-founder, and while Kevin Brown passed away before the first Music and Miracles Superfest in April 2016, his establishment of the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation will help the franchise continue to support fundraising for cancer research and to help end hunger in America. The $200,000 raised from the inaugural Music and Miracles concert festival in Auburn, Alabama—which had performances from Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert—were donated to the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, and the foundation now has several charitable initiatives throughout the year, in additional to annual promotion of Music and Miracles.  

The Cleaning Authority—The Cleaning Authority CARES

With its focus on hunger relief, The Cleaning Authority Cares program combines the efforts of the franchisees in its system to provide local food banks with additional food donations during their seasons of highest need. Launched in spring 2016, the program attracted participation from 151 offices—nearly 75 percent of franchise locations—and collected 238,175 pounds of food, which was in turn donated to 216 locations in 40 states/provinces in the U.S. and Canada. A Hunger Awareness Month T-shirt campaign also resulted in a $2,392 donation to Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Franchisee Deborah Helak had this to say about her local Downington, Pennsylvania, food bank’s reaction to the food delivery: “The food bank tells us the need for food is SO great right now. Pantries all over the area are extremely low during the summer—when the need is actually the greatest. So they were practically turning cartwheels when we showed up with three SUVs full of food.”

— Laura Michaels


Enduring Impact Award

Wendy’s helps ‘wonderful kids’ find wonderful families

The Enduring Impact award calls out companies that have executed an outstanding charitable or community support program for at least five years. Officially launching in 2004, the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program has been helping foster kids find forever families, placing more than 6,000 children with loving families over the last 13 years.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids responded to a lack of evidence-based practices that social workers had available to help get some of the oldest kids waiting in foster care adopted, said Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. “Those are the kids we worry about most, those kids that turn 18 and age out of the foster care model,” she said.

Right now, there are 130,000 such children waiting for a way out of the foster system. Part of the work of the program is to de-stigmatize the conception that foster kids are somehow bad kids.

CJ digs into his homework

CJ digs into his homework at his new forever home.

“I think still in this country, not every American knows today there are 130,000 kids who through no fault of their own are in foster care because of abuse or neglect or trafficking,” said Soronen.

The $77.6 million raised by the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program over the last five years keeps 300 recruiters funded to help these vulnerable kids find families. And their work has also helped change the perception of foster children.

A study on the program showed the child-focused recruitment model is greatest among children who are older or those who have mental health disorders. For children referred at age 8, the likelihood of adoption was 1.5 times higher; for children referred at age 11, the likelihood was two times higher; and for children referred at age 15, the likelihood of adoption was three times higher.

Funds are raised through in-store campaigns such as coupon books, Frosty key tags, golf tournaments, voluntary payroll deductions, kickball tournaments and a whole slew of franchisee and staff-led initiatives. A fun run around the Wendy’s corporate campus, for example, became one of the most popular fundraising efforts in the program.

“We had some employees who a few years back started a 5K. It was just around our campus and had a modest goal of $5,000,” said Liliana Esposito, chief communications officer with Wendy’s. “Now we raise tens of thousands of dollars—we’re on track for $80,000 this year.”

And it’s a big part of franchise conventions. At the last international franchisee convention, the company raised more than $2.5 million for the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program.
Franchisees love the program, as more than 90 percent of markets participate in some way, a part of the giving culture that Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas instilled in the company.

Laverne Jenkins

Laverne Jenkins, her adopted daughter Raychelle, her new sister Angelica and father Terry Jenkins.

“It’s incredible. How lucky are we that we are able to serve this vulnerable group, then to have this brand that allows us to use their name and their real estate to do fundraising,” said Soronen. “I think it’s unique among for profit and not-for-profit that there is such an organic connection through Dave Thomas.”

The giving has become a major part of the entire business culture, and Esposito said it grows as the brand grows.

“It’s a really critical part of our culture. The values the brand was founded on are still really relevant today,” said Esposito. “We know that it affects employee engagement in a very positive way. No matter where you are, you want to be part of something that has a higher purpose. So the foundation is really a perfect fit for us.”

Silver Winners

Tropical Smoothie Café—Camp Sunshine

Tropical Smoothie Café helps children and families affected by life-threatening illnesses with a little escape from the day-to-day pain. For the past 10 years, the brand has raised more than $4.5 million to support Camp Sunshine, an organization devoted to a happy camp experience for such children. To date, the brand has helped nearly 1,000 families enjoy their own Camp Sunshine experience free of charge.

Tropical Smoothie Café does it through ongoing efforts such as National Flip Flop Day, corporate awareness campaigns and franchisee-driven events such as charity murder mysteries, fairs, golf tournaments and car washes. More than 60 people across the brand have also volunteered at the camp.  

McAlister’s Deli—Crusade for Children

Marena, CJ and Dee

Marena, CJ and Dee. One of 6,000 forever families brought together by the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program.

For 17 years, McAlister’s Deli has been dedicated to raising funds to help children with special needs achieve a better quality of life. Locations across Louisville, Kentucky, have raised more than $800,000 to help the program provide grants and assistance to agencies, schools and hospitals. In 2017, the restaurants have to date raised nearly $66,000.

At McAlister’s Deli, employees do not accept tips, so when tips come in, they are pooled and everything goes toward the Crusade for Children. The brand said it’s a true team effort between the restaurants and the guests.

Global Franchise Group—A Bite for the Fight

To make a difference in the lives of those living with and affected by blood cancer, the Global Franchise Group hosts an annual campaign to help The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The company’s A Bite for the Fight campaign has raised more than $1.8 million for the nonprofit. Each year, the company encourages customers, franchisees and employees to make donations to the LLS Light the Night Walk. Global Franchise Group brands include Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery, Hot Dog on a Stick, MaggieMoo’s and Pretzelmaker.

— Nicholas Upton


Dream Vacations

Dream Vacations honors its military veteran agents. The company helps veterans become franchisees through Operation Vetrepreneur.

Photo Credit: www.THELXA.COM

Support our Veterans Award

Dream Vacations backs Operation Vetrepreneur

In an industry with remarkable support, assistance and mentorship for military families, this year’s gold winner of the Franchising Gives Back Support Our Veterans Award goes to Dream Vacations and its program to support military service members.

Operation Vetrepreneur: Become Your Own General is the travel agency franchise’s annual contest to give away five free franchises to deserving veterans of any of the five branches of the U.S. military.

After the initial paperwork, all applicants go through a phone interview with the company’s franchise development team. From there, semi-finalists submit business plans, personal essays and creative videos describing themselves and their interest in the program. According to the company, Dream Vacations’ program has already changed the lives of 25 veterans and their families who transitioned from active duty to the business of selling vacations. All together, that’s a total award of $317,500 since the program’s inception.

Now in its fifth year, the contest provides the winners with a $12,700 discount on the cost of getting started, including a week of training at the Dream Vacations headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. After their training week, they are armed with everything they need to get up and running with a franchise that’s been widely recognized as one of the best for military families returning to civilian life.

Debbie Fiorino

Debbie Fiorino (second from left) is joined by other supporters of Dream Vacations’ Operation Vetrepreneur program.

“I personally don’t know how anyone couldn’t be emotional when talking about our military,” said Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president at Dream Vacations and one of the program’s leaders. “I always say my job is rewarding, but this part of the job is extremely rewarding to have the opportunity to give them this opportunity—I am a pretty emotional person to begin with, so it always gets emotional.”

Fiorino added that one of the best—but most difficult—parts of the selection process is watching the videos the participants submit in an effort to stand out from the 300 vets who applied to the program most recently. Some include their spouse or pets, some wear crazy shirts for a visual hook, and one couple from the Carolinas filmed their video during a hurricane that swept through the region.

“We’re looking for people who have put some effort into their business plan, because it shows they’re very serious about this,” she said. “I want to give the franchise away to every single one of them just for being in the military, but we want to make sure people are really investing the time and energy it takes to launch a new small business and it shows that they’ve put that effort in.”

For Dream Vacations, it’s the first year the program has been recognized as part of Franchising Gives Back. Fiorino said the recognition was extremely meaningful and exciting for her team, which is deeply invested in the program and the families they meet throughout the process.

In advising other franchised companies to act on their own charitable passions, Fiorino added it’s critical to have deep support throughout the organization all the way up through the C-suite.

“It’s not about putting something on your website to say you care, you have to really care about it and that’s what’s made the difference,” she said. “It takes investment, but that investment pays off.”

Silver Winnersx

Anytime Fitness—Operation HeartFirst

The Minnesota-based franchised fitness giant’s Operation HeartFirst is a three-year-old effort to partner with Tee It Up for the Troops, a national nonprofit helping military veterans open their own gyms and provide additional employment opportunities for fellow veterans. The program offers a $125,000 grant and a $125,000 loan to a select number of honorably discharged vets to provide capital for an Anytime Fitness location.

Sport Clips—Help A Hero Scholarship

Launched in 2007, the Sport Clips Haircuts Help A Hero campaign connects deployed and hospitalized service members to their loved ones in partnership with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Operation Uplink Free Call Days program. In its first year, the program raised $87,000 for free calls home. Expanded in 2013 to a wider goal of easing the transition from battlefield to workplace, Help A Hero provides up to $5,000 for those pursuing post-secondary degrees, including trade schools. To date, it has provided more than $5 million in support, including a record-breaking $1 million in 2016.

—Tom Kaiser

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